Academic Aesthetic Podcast 68

Click to listenMany of you are already familiar with that great photo sharing site known as Flickr, but have you ever heard of NIPSA?

NIPSA came to my attention when I was searching Flickr for photos tagged with “Second Life.” I’ll admit it, that game is very addictive, and one of the ways I find neat places to explore is to look at photos placed online on various sites.

Well, I started to run into some discussion about photos and whole accounts being marked as NIPSA. NIPSA? What was that? Naturally I did what anyone would do in that situation.

I Googled it.

Figuring that the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance was not the NIPSA I was looking for, I looked a little harder.

It turns out that as it relates to Flickr, NIPSA stands for “Not In Public Site Areas.” In a nutshell, it’s Flickr’s way of censoring without deleting.

Out of a nutshell (it was cramped in there anyway), a Flickr photo that’s marked as NIPSA is still viewable, can be submitted to groups, placed on websites, downloaded, and so on. What you can’t do is search for it by using tags or paging through the “Everyone’s Photos” section.

The key to NIPSA is a little check box labeled “May Offend.” If you see a photo that you don’t think a 14 year old should be looking at, you check the box. If enough people do that, the photo is NIPSAed. This sort of social police work appeals to me, as it’s rather empowering for users to know they can do something about inappropriate material besides whining to a moderator. I have my suspicions that a check from Flickr staff might hold more weight than the average user, but hey, they’re getting paid to do that so I don’t mind.

You can even mark your own photos as “May Offend,” if you feel that while your images are artistic they may not appeal to everyone.

Naturally, I see NIPSA as a good thing. If I’m going to recommend Flickr as an educational resource (which I do…) then I don’t want to hear about some unsuspecting 3rd grade teacher generating fodder for 30 phone calls from concerned parents because of a couple mouse clicks.

There is another side to NIPSA, though. You see, Flickr is marketing itself as a photo site. Drawings, paintings, collages, CGI screen captures, and of course works that appear to be copyrighted by others don’t fit into this category, so they often will NIPSA those pictures as well. This has a lot of Second Life enthusiasts foaming at the mouth, since any “photo” from the world of Second Life is in reality a screen capture.

Truth be told, Flickr has every right to do this. It’s their freely provided service, so they can enforce their terms of use as they see fit.

That being said, I’m a little worried. My own Flickr account is full of artworks created by my students, which I’ve uploaded to showcase various lesson ideas. The line between a drawing and a photo of a drawing is thin and, at best, merely philosophical. All I need is one Flickr staff member having a bad day to visit my site, and suddenly I’m off the grid.

But I’ve had my account for over a year and it hasn’t happened yet, so I’m cautiously optimistic.